Black Lab in the Grass

Labrador Retriever Dog Breed

Other names:
Black Lab
Chocolate Lab
Silver Lab
Yellow Lab

The labrador retriever is often the most popular purebred dog in North America (according to dog registrations). Originally bred to be a useful working dog, the lab's friendly attitude and hard working behavior has made it one of the most recognized and well-known dogs in the world.

Labrador retrievers have a strong desire to please and are extremely intelligent dogs. This has not only made them perfect companion dogs, but also ideal hunting dogs, assistance dogs, search and rescue dogs, as well as the top choice for many other jobs.

Labrador Retriever Breed Details

There are many Labrador facts, but you should understand that these dogs are first and foremost hunters who are also great gun dogs. If they are not regularly used for hunting, they need a similarly strenuous job that will keep them mentally and physically stimulated. They are splendid pets for families seeking their first dog. To be at their best, however, these dogs do require a fair amount of responsibility. Understanding the many Labrador pros and cons will help you understand if this is the right dog for you.

Here are some facts about Labrador Retrievers that will help you decide if you want one of these dogs:


  • Highly trainable
  • Loves other dogs
  • Great for older kids
  • Coat is easy to clean
  • Excellent hunting dog
  • Perfect for highly active lifestyles
  • Gets along well with most non-canine pets


  • Love to get dirty
  • Frequent diggers
  • Massive shedders
  • Not hypoallergenic
  • Requires a lot of exercise
  • Prone to separation anxiety
  • Fair amount of health problems
  • May take up to three years to mature
  • Females typically blow their coats twice annually
  • Huge popularity means lots of unscrupulous breeders
  • Must be supervised around very small or young children and toddlers
10 - 12 yrs.
21 - 24 in.
55 - 80 lbs
OverallFamily FriendlyChild FriendlyPet FriendlyStranger Friendly
Easy to GroomEnergy LevelExercise NeedsHealthShedding Amount
Barks / HowlsEasy to TrainGuard DogPlayfulnessWatch Dog
Apartment DogCan be AloneGood for Busy OwnersGood for New OwnersIntelligence

Labrador Retriever Breed Description

The labrador retriever is a large breed dog. They are well built and have an athletic and muscular body which makes them useful for many jobs. They have a short coat which makes them easy to groom.

Labs are notoriously friendly dogs and are often called one of the worst watchdogs in the world due to their friendly behavior towards complete strangers. The breed is devoted to their family and will serve their owners without hesitation regardless of the task. The lab's sweet and gentle nature make them ideal therapy dogs and their high intelligence makes them good assistance dogs as well.

Originally the labrador retriever was bred to help local fishermen re-capture escaping fish, haul nets, and retrieving ropes. These instincts are still strong with labs as they are still very fond of water and enjoy swimming.

Labrador retrievers are family oriented dogs. They desire to be with their masters all day. They are excellent with children and are friendly with other household pets as well.

Labrador Retriever Breed History

The history of Labradors is a colorful story. The Labrador Retriever origin is one that starts not in Labrador but in Newfoundland. Canada, a region owned by England until after WWII, was considered in general geographical terms by the gentry across the drink. As such, Labrador and Newfoundland were lumped together by the English.

Labs are believed to have come from the St. John's Dog, a Newfoundland-area "breed" which had been around since the 16th century. Those dogs were used to retrieve fish. Over time they were crossbred with dogs imported from Portugal, England, and Ireland. In turn, a semi-breed emerged, and that was called — in turns — the Newfoundland and Greater Newfoundland. These dogs were believed to have been produced when mastiffs and the French St. Hubert's hound dog were introduced to the breeding.

In 1807, these dogs were exported to England and used as hunting dogs. In 1887, the Earl of Malmesbury — an Englishman — conceived the name "Labrador." Although that earl kept his Labrador Kennels well-stocked with the dogs until his death in 1841, the breed nearly died out in England during the 1880s. Just before he died, the earl and two dukes — of Buccleuch and of Home — managed to save the breed. The two dogs (named Ned and Avon) given to the dukes are said to be the ancestors of all British Labs alive today. Avon sired puppies with liver coats and may be responsible for many of the American Field Champion Labs with the chocolate gene.

In the early 20th century, the Lab finally made its way to the America. The AKC registered its first Labrador retriever in 1917. If you are wondering, Where do yellow Labs come from?, it may be either Ben of Hyde (from kennels of a British officer, Major C.J. Radclyffe) or Kinclaven Lowesby, the first yellow Lab that was AKC-registered and was done so in 1929.

Labrador Retriever Appearance

The Labrador face is easily recognizable, as this breed is said to be the most popular dog in the world. This medium-sized, strong and balanced dog is also one of the most popular for cross-breeding. The Labrador coat is both loved and loathed: loved because it is easy to groom and loathed because it is one of the least hypoallergenic dog coats out there. There are some differences in show and working versions of the Lab as well as between the English and American Labradors.

The Labrador head, which is broad and box-shaped, is set with strong jaws, expressive eyes and large ears that flop down. They are strong throughout the body from the chest to both the front and rear legs. The neck is a bit long but also strong. The long legs end in webbed paws. Then there are Labrador tails, which are as distinctive as the other end! The dog's thick, strong tail is medium in length and called an "otter tail" as they use it to guide them in water.

The Labrador coat is short-haired, dense and somewhat hard to the touch. (There is a soft undercoat too, but it is not seen but felt.) It is a highly weather- and water-resistant coat that tends to be oily without looking slick. Labrador features can resemble a seal, and when they are in the water, it is easy to see this resemblance.

Labrador Retriever Colors

The images below represent the coat colors and patterns associated with Labrador Retrievers.


Labrador Retriever Variations

The types of Labrador dogs can be vexing to explain. Some people say that the types of Labs are explained as English and American, whereas other people may say that these two basic variations are best labeled as "show" and "working" dogs. (An alternative to the show/work styles is sometimes called "conformation" and "field" types.) Regardless of how they may be labeled, these two primary varieties of Labrador retriever are the universally accepted ones.

The English type Labrador (aka show/conformation) is touted as easier to train and apparently ideal as hunting dogs suited for family life. They also have a more blocky head that is one of the key features of the breed. The American type has longer legs, may be leaner and is said to be better for experienced hunters who tend to be somewhat professional.

While there are no real coat variations, breed standards do acknowledge — and refuse to accept — wooly, shiny and silky coats. Still, the wooly or long hair Labrador does exist and is somewhat desired by dog lovers. This "type" is said to have a strong St. John's water dog influence, and they are rather rare. All Labs have double coats. The one difference is that the English variety has a more dense coat than the American style Lab.

Coat color can sometimes be the way people describe the varieties of Labs. This is not generally accepted, but it is often enough discussed that you should know it. More about coat color can be found elsewhere on this page.

As for mini Labs or miniature Labradors, there are no such things. These would not be purebred dogs unless they were genetically defective or runts — neither of which is desirable. Some backyard breeders (BYBs) breed Labs with dwarfism and sell them as teacup Labradors.

Labrador Retriever Temperament

The Labrador temperament is legendary: this breed has frequently placed first in the most popular dog list published by the American Kennel Club. This very amicable, loyal and trustworthy dog is sensitive, keen to make friends and extremely good for kids of all ages. They may have a superior sense of smell and are excellent trackers, but they are not suited to be guard dog work.

The Labrador characteristics include a curiosity that will prompt roaming, digging and, especially in female Labs, independence. These Labrador traits are not bad, and can be directed to be helpful later in life and when they work. The focus they exhibit when working should be understood and managed rather than ignored or curbed. They should be given a regular task to use their ability for agility.

As these dogs are very sweet, so too must they be trained very gently. As puppies, they are rambunctious. They are also slow to mature and may take up to three years before they calm down. They should not be yelled at or treated harshly when they do get overly playful, as they can quickly develop anxiety — which will affect their temperament, ability to work and health.

Living Requirements

Owning a Labrador is often advertised as being the best dog you can get for your family — but it comes with a fair bit of responsibility. Apartment living is not recommended unless it's a big space and you can take your lovely Lab out for long daily walks as well as frequent dog park visits. They aren't meant to be left outdoors, but they need to be outside a lot.

A lot of people are sure to ask, Are labs hypoallergenic? This breed is probably the least hypoallergenic dog, unfortunately. They have double coats and their coats secrete a lot of oil due to them having a history of jumping into cold water to retrieve fishing nets. This can be alleviated somewhat by a quick and gentle wiping down with a damp cloth. Still, there will be a lot of shedding, a lot of dander, and possibly a lot of Labrador allergies.

Separation anxiety is another unavoidable possibility if you have a Labrador as a pet. They may acquire this anxiety for a number of reasons. If the dog is a rescue, there is a greater chance of this malady as the dog may have been abandoned. Your daily departure might trigger a concern in the dog that, like the previous owner, you too will never return. Or it could be that she is bored because she doesn't get enough exercise, outdoor activity or play time.

Either way, there are steps that can be taken in advance to lessen the possibility of separation anxiety as well as to deal with it if it happens. There are many guides you can find in books and online to help with preventing this problem. There are also dog behaviorists that can help in extreme cases. Having professional help may seem expensive, but replacing the furniture is sure to be far more costly!

Labrador Retriever Health

Labrador Retrievers are a fairly healthy breed of dog. They do have a couple of significant non-inherited problems, but these can be prevented with close supervision and a carefully managed diet. These dogs love to eat, and they are also historically accustomed to retrieving things — and this can mean they eat things that are not edible, safe or good for them. Even with food, they must have a strict diet or they will eat until they are obese. The other issue is warm weather and heat exhaustion, as these dogs won't stop until they are physically unable to continue. They are used jumping into very cold water, and they have double coats that may not allow them to understand how hot it is.

Some of the inherited problems you should test for and watch for signs are:

  • Deafness
  • Cataracts
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Luxating patella
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Retinal dysplasia
  • Corneal dystrophy
  • Hereditary myopathy
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

The average lifespan for Labrador Retrievers is 10 to 12 years, but recent surveys have found some that have lived for up to 19 years.

Labrador Retriever Health Concerns

Below are potential health concerns associated with Labrador Retrievers.

Hip dysplasia
Ear infections
Progressive retinal atrophy
Elbow dysplasia
Osteochondritis Dissecans
Tricuspid valve dysplasia
Acute moist dermatitis
Cold tail

Random Details

Along with being excellent hunting dogs that can specialize as gun dogs and for retrieving water fowl, there are many Labrador Retriever uses. They are one of the most used dogs for therapy, seeing-eye and autism support. They are highly prized by police departments, military, and other government agencies for their ability to detect. Some have been trained to recognize unconscious persons, perform actions that result in such a person being placed in a recovery position and then executing other actions (such as cell phone and blanket retrieval, barking where people were most likely hear it, etc.) that save lives. Most remarkable, however, may be the Lab's ability to be trained to smell for cancer.

Other fascinating facts about Labs:

The Led Zeppelin song, "Black Dog," is literally about a black dog which happened to be a Lab wandering about in the studio. When the band was recording, they impulsively named the song because of the black dog about which no one knew but which now basically everyone knows!

A painting of a particularly famous Lab (responsible for every chocolate Lab ever), Peter of Faskally, was sold by Bonham's in New York in 2011. Apparently, a private collector purchased it for somewhere between $60,000 and $80,000.

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About this Article

Authored by:Dog-Learn
Updated:March 28, 2018